Careers in your face
IF YOU HAVE a passion for beauty products and a flair for nurturing good customer relations, you might consider beauty sourcing as a career.
Because sourcing in the beauty industry varies significantly from business to business, strict criteria apply across the board.
Tin Chan, administrative manager of the Water Oasis Group, a skin-care and beauty product business, said the firm conducted its sourcing through its administration department.
The Water Oasis Group operates through more than 150 retail outlets and 30 spas and beauty centres in Hong Kong, Macau, the mainland, Taiwan and Singapore. The group's three brands are designed for widely differing customer groups.
The group sources about 300 items, from skin-care and beauty products and equipment for its beauty centres to stationery and printing items.
The department will be looking at market opportunities and studying trends to match Water Oasis's upcoming summer and winter schedules.
'Our main concern is efficiency,' Mr Chan said.
Products are sourced through websites and suppliers. Other sources are international beauty and cosmetics shows, trade councils and customer recommendations.
But simply finding a source is not enough.
'Merchandisers must research the vendor's background and history and the nature of the product, and use their own experience,' said Wilson Ho Kwan-luen, director of Who's Aromist, a small but highly successful Hong Kong aromatherapy business.
'You have to consider the vendor and the ingredient at the same time - these are not independent events.'
Verification of ingredients was the vital next step and was usually carried out internally or by independent laboratories using samples provided by the suppliers, he said.
Mr Ho explained that because the company's main business was aromatherapy, the company had to be careful about selecting ingredients, and also take care not to emphasise technology above safety and consistency.
After samples have passed the test, face-to-face negotiations are conducted with the vendor. These meetings are also an opportunity to check the vendor's site, factory or farm, while helping to build good relations.
'We let the vendor know about our company in as much detail as possible, and for our part we ask the vendor to give us real products with a real price,' Mr Ho said.
Mr Chan said reliable suppliers were likely to have obtained local or international certification.
Once all the boxes for cross-checking are ticked off, the material is evaluated for effectiveness and treatments are established for the coming year.
Sourcing is not without its challenges, with timing and the ability to make snap decisions being at the heart of the business. Rapid responses and meeting deadlines are crucial for any company involved in the highly competitive business of beauty.
'Time is always too short,' Mr Chan said. Being positioned as a regional authority for the beauty industry and a provider of total beauty solutions, the company had to be vigilant about timeliness, he said.
Many beauty industry suppliers are based in Europe, and so business with them is affected by significant time differences. Also, state holidays in Europe have to be factored in.
Water Oasis Group has set up a library that serves as a database and an aid to ensure new, good products are stored for future reference.
Also crucial to business was ensuring that the right products went to the right customers, said Mr Ho.
'We have more than 500 products, but to see which product suits which customer we have to understand the customers' needs,' he said.
'We therefore have two lines, one for conventional pharma [pharmaceutical] essential oils [for daily use] and the other for organic essential oils [for professionals]. We are
pleasing two different kinds of customer.'
Commercial farms in Britain and the United States are the main source of conventional oils, while organic essential oils come from all over the world, with different certification standards and criteria.
Mr Chan of the Water Oasis Group believes there are plenty of opportunities for the right people in the highly exacting and fast-growing beauty industry.
He pointed to the vast potential of the mainland, where the beauty business was taking hold in a big way. The hunt was on for a large army of sourcing and merchandising professionals there.
'Water Oasis has 150 retail stores on the mainland, and we are opening beauty centres there as well,' Mr Chan said.
'We are one of the industry leaders, and we provide very good job opportunities.'
Those interested in joining the beauty industry as sourcing and merchandising professionals should be people who enjoy networking, negotiating and sourcing.
They should also be detail-orientated, passionate about their job and ready to face regional exposure.
'You must also be cost-conscious and have good communication skills, especially when dealing with foreign suppliers and, of course, internal departments,' Mr Chan added.
There are perks as well.
One of the attractions of a career in beauty, he said with a smile, was 'the opportunity to try free samples!'